British scriptural geologists in the first half of the nineteenth century

  • Terence J. Mortenson

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    During the first half of the nineteenth century (particularly 1820-1845) in Britain a number of laymen and clergymen tenaciously fought against the new geological theories. These men became known as the "Scriptural geologists." They held the traditional Christian view that Genesis provided a reliable, historical account of the creation of the universe and the early history of the earth. In particular, they believed that the Noachian deluge was a unique global catastrophe, which produced most of the geological record, and that the earth was roughly 6000 years old.

    From this position they responded with equal vigour to the old-earth theories of the uniformitarian and the catastrophist geologists. They also rejected, as misinterpretations of Scripture, the "gap theory," the "day-age theory," the "tranquil flood theory" and the "local flood theory."

    These writers have received limited scholarly analysis. Gillispie, Millhauser and Yule have given them some attention and are the historians regularly cited by others. Much current research addresses the issue of religion and science in the nineteenth century but none has focused on the Scriptural geologists. They deserve more study because they were "an important irritant and a serious disturbing factor in the scientific geologists' campaign to establish and maintain their own public image as a source of reliable and authoritative knowledge" (Martin Rudwick, The Great Devonian Controversy, 1985, p. 43). Also, this thesis demonstrates that they have been seriously misrepresented both by many of their contemporaries and by nearly all later historians.

    By way of introduction, a brief analysis is given of 1) the intellectual, religious and cultural background leading up to the nineteenth century, 2) the history of the interpretation of fossils, sedimentary rocks, and the Genesis account of creation and the flood, 3) a description of the nineteenth century milieu and 4) what constituted geological competence in the early nineteenth century. The central portion of the thesis analyzes the Biblical and geological arguments presented by thirteen representative Scriptural geologists. In the final section, generalizations and conclusions are made about the Scriptural geologists as a group and the nature of the debate with those they opposed.
    Date of Award1996
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    • University of Oxford
    SupervisorColin Russell (Supervisor) & J. Gordon McConville (Supervisor)


    • Geology
    • Scriptures
    • Bible
    • Christianity
    • Flood
    • Noah

    Cite this